What is Eschatology?
Eschatology is a Greek word meaning “Study of the Last” – meaning last days, or as some have termed it, the Apocalypse. It is typically that portion of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. For Muslims, belief in the events of the last days and final judgement is not optional. In fact, it’s number five of the Six Articles of Faith.
But for Muslims, the subject is even more complicated. Many have said that Islamic eschatology is both more specific and more vague than its Christian counterpart. Here’s an intro from Wikipedia:
Islamic eschatology is the branch of Islamic scholarship that studies Yawm al-Qiyāmah (“the Day of Resurrection”) or Yawm ad-Dīn (“the Day of Judgment”). This is believed to be the final assessment of humanity by God, consisting of the annihilation of all life, resurrection and judgment. The time of the event is not specified, although there are major and minor signs which have been foretold to happen at al-Qiyamah. Many verses of the Quran contain the motif of the impending Last Judgment.
Surat al-Qiyama has as its main subject the resurrection. The Great Tribulation is also described in the hadith, and commentaries of the ulama such as al-Ghazali, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Majah, Muhammad al-Bukhari, and Ibn Khuzaymah.
The hadith describe the end time with more specificity than the Qur’an, describing the events of al-Qiyamah through twelve major signs. At the time of judgment, terrible corruption and chaos will rule. Isa (Jesus) and Mahdi are central in events occurring near the time of judgement. The Mahdi (The redeemer of Islam) will be sent and with the help of Jesus (The Messiah in Islam who will become the ruler of the world and abolish all religions but Islam), will battle Masih ad-Dajjal (Antichrist in Islam). They will triumph, liberating Islam from cruelty, and this will be followed by a time of serenity with people living true to religious values.
The righteous are rewarded with pleasures of Jannah “Paradise”, while the unrighteous are punished in Jahannam “Hell”.
This is important in the overall study of Islam. It is precisely Islam’s eschatology that has directly motivated and inspired states such as Iran and numerous terrorist groups to spur on or hasten “the hour”. They have literally tried to fulfill both the major and minor “signs” below. It is also worth noting that Christian eschatology is essentially personal, not political. Believers are enjoined to merely be prepared though individual faith and righteousness. This difference is just another reflection of how, ideologically, Islam was designed to encompass all aspects of human existence, not just individual spirituality.
The Details – Specificity and also Vagueness
The following is an excerpt from a Christian website which gives a surprisingly dispassionate and accurate summary:
> The Islamic Signs of the Times
There are both minor and major signs that point to the climactic event in Islamic eschatology — namely, “the Hour,” which is the time of resurrection and judgment. There is a Second Coming of Jesus in Islamic end time events, but it is not considered to be the decisive event. Rather, it is viewed as a sign pointing toward “the Hour.” The beginning of the end times is marked by the appearance of the Antichrist, who is called the Dajjal. As with the Christian Scriptures, the order of the major end time events is not always clear in the Qu’ran and Hadith, and therefore, in Islamic tradition they are placed in various chronological order. Also — as is the case with Christianity — Islam teaches that only God knows the timing of the end time events. But there are signs to watch for that will indicate the season. There are both major and minor signs.
Many of the minor signs have to do with general trends in society. Others relate to specific events that will occur before the appearance of the Antichrist. The major signs relate to specific prophesied events that will occur between the time of the appearance of the Antichrist and “the Hour” of resurrection and judgment. The listings of both the minor and major signs vary greatly.
> The Minor Signs
The minor signs which speak of general trends are a mirror of Christian end time signs.
- An increase in ignorance concerning the fundamentals of the faith.
- Increasing instability of the faith (Muslims becoming Christians overnight).
- An increase in false prophets.
- An increase in apostasy (as evidenced by Muslims following false christs).
- An increase in religious pretentiousness (as in the building of luxurious mosques).
- An acceptance of astrology.
- An increase in alcohol use and illicit sexual relations.
- An increase in natural calamities.
- An increase in political corruption.
- People longing for death (due to the increase in calamities and wickedness).
- Increasing paganism. (Muslims will increasingly follow the life-styles of non-Muslims.)
- An increase in war and civil wars (even wars among Muslims).
There are a number of minor signs that are peculiar to Islam. They are as follows:
- Women will outnumber men by 50 to 1. (No reason is given, but it is likely due to the expectation of many jihad martyrs in the end times.)
- The caliphate (the seat of Islamic authority) will be established in the Holy Land. (This prophecy is a problem. What was meant by “Holy Land?” If it refers to Palestine, it is unfulfilled. If it refers to Saudi Arabia, it was fulfilled 1400 years ago.)
- The Arabs will be destroyed. (This is another troublesome prophecy. What does “destroyed” mean? The Ottoman Empire, controlled by Turkish non-Arabs, conquered all the Middle East in the 1500’s. Some argue this was a fulfillment of the prophecy. But it did not lead to “the Hour.” And now the Arab nations have reasserted themselves.)
- The habitations of Medina must be greatly extended.
- The Muslims must fight the Turks and “the people whose shoes are made of hair.” (This has been applied to past battles with the Turks and the Tartars. Yet, “the Hour” has not come.)
- The Arabs must conquer Constantinople. (The city, now called Istanbul, was conquered by Muslims in the 15th Century, but not by Arabs.)
- Mecca will be reduced to ruins.
- A people will emerge who eat with their tongues as cows do.
- Time will contract, with a year being like a month and a month like a week.
- Wild beasts will speak to men.
- The Euphrates River will uncover a mountain of gold.
> The Major Signs
The major signs pointing to “the Hour” are all critical events that are part of the end time sequence of events, beginning with the appearance of the Antichrist. Muslim scholars generally do not try to present a strict chronological order of what is going to ultimately transpire, but the order presented below is representative:
- The Appearance of the Antichrist, called the Dajjal. Despite the importance of this individual, he is never mentioned in the Qu’ran, only in the Hadith. He will be a Jew born in Iran to parents who have been childless for 30 years. He will have only one eye. He will claim to be a prophet, and then he will claim to be divine. He will deceive many by his godliness and his miracles. He will go forth with an army of 70,000 Jews and 70,000 Tartars, and he will conquer all the world except Mecca and Medina. His reign will last for 40 days during a time when one day will be like a year. Some passages of the Hadith indicate that he will have the word “Infidel” written on his forehead. His reign is characterized by cruelty and deceit. He has a militaristic mentality. His purpose is to be deified, worshiped, and to reign. There are many parallels between the Islamic Dajjal and the Antichrist revealed in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
- The Return of Jesus will put an end to the reign of the Antichrist. (Keep in mind that the Qu’ran teaches that Jesus was not crucified or resurrected. Rather, he was simply lifted up to Heaven before His enemies could kill Him. One of the reasons He must return is so that He can experience death, like all other men.) Jesus will return to the Mount of Olives and then head to Damascus to confront the Antichrist. He will pursue the Antichrist south into Israel and will kill him “at the gate of Ludd.” That is modern day Lod, located near Tel Aviv. It is the site of Israel’s international airport. The defeat of the Antichrist will result in the eradication of the Jewish people.
- The Invasion of Gog & Magog will occur at this point. This is mentioned in the Qu’ran (18:83-99 and 21:96). It is developed in many Hadith passages. Gog and Magog are presented as two nations with an army so large that when its soldiers finish drinking from the Sea of Galilee, no water will be left in the sea! They will invade Palestine from the north, and they will besiege Jesus and His companions. Jesus will cry out to Allah to save them, and Allah will respond by sending deadly insects (similar to the locusts of Revelation 9) who will destroy the invading armies. (All this imagery is based on Ezekiel 38 and 39.)
- The Reign of Jesus will follow the defeat of Gog & Magog. Jesus will proclaim Islam to be the true religion and all Christians will convert. All other religions will be eliminated. All crosses will be broken, and all pigs will be exterminated. Jesus will be the sole ruler on earth, heading up an Islamic theocracy. He will be a just ruler. Every harmful beast will be domesticated. There will be abundant rain and plentiful harvests. All weapons of war will be converted into tools of agriculture, and there will be world wide peace. (All of this imagery is taken from the book of Isaiah.) The reign of Jesus will last for 40 years. He will go to Mecca regularly to perform rituals of pilgrimage. Twenty-one years into His reign, He will marry and begat children. Nineteen years later He will die. He will be buried in Medina next to Mohammad where He will await the Day of Resurrection like all other humans who have died. When Jesus dies, all believers will also die peacefully and gracefully. (This is the Islamic equivalent of the Rapture — that is, the removal of all the righteous from the world.) Unbelievers will be left behind to indulge their passions.
- The Appearance of the Beast — At this point a good “Beast” will be “produced from the earth.” The Beast will call the world to acknowledge Allah. He will wear the ring of Solomon and carry the rod of Moses. Those who reject his message will have the word “Infidel” written on their foreheads. What ultimately happens to the Beast is never revealed.
- The Smoke — According to the Qu’ran, a cloud of smoke will suddenly arise and engulf the world. This phenomenon will cause severe suffering.
- Three Land Slides — Additional suffering will be caused by three great landslides which will occur in three different parts of the earth, one in the East, one in the West, and one in Arabia.
- A Miracle of Nature — One of the last signs before “the Hour” will be an incredible miracle. The sun will rise in the West!
- A Great Fire will break out “south of Eden” (in the area known today as Yemen). The conflagration will become worldwide and will be so intense that it will drive Mankind to the place of final assembly before the Day of Resurrection. That place will be in Syria (which includes modern day Palestine).
We are now almost ready for “the Hour,” the Day of Resurrection. But first, some comments about the Islamic concept of the intermediate state between death and resurrection. Muslims believe in the immortality of the soul. Upon death, the grave is visited by two angels named Munkar and Nakir. These angels question the person and assess his deeds. They then make a preliminary determination as to the person’s ultimate fate. If that is Paradise, the grave is loosened for relaxation and the person is in a state of bliss until the Day of Resurrection. If the angels decide the person deserves to go to Hell, the grave will be tightened and the person will remain in a state of torture until the Day of Resurrection. So, all people are subjected to two judgments, a preliminary one at death, and a final one at the time of the resurrection.
- The Three Trumpets — After the worldwide gathering of people to Syria, the first of three trumpets will be blown. The first is called “the trumpet of terror.” It is a wake-up call that will strike terror in the hearts of all people. After an unspecified period of time, a second trumpet will be blown. It is called “the trumpet of the swoon.” It will result in every living thing in Heaven and on earth dying except God Himself, any He desires to spare, and the martyrs who are alive in Paradise. Even the angel of death will experience death! When the universe becomes void of all life, Allah will proclaim His sovereignty. Three times He will shout, “I am the Mighty One!” Then He will shout three times: “To whom does the kingdom belong today?” When no one answers, He will say, “It belongs to the only One God, the Conqueror.” The time period between the second and third trumpets is not specified, but during that time, Allah creates new heavens and a new earth. Upon their completion, the third trumpet will be blown. It is “the trumpet of resurrection.”
- “The Hour” or the Day of Resurrection — The inhabitants of Heaven will be the first to be resurrected. While this is occurring, Allah will cause the bodies of the dead on earth to start regrowing underground. When these bodies are ready, He will order the blowing of the third trumpet and the spirits of the dead will enter their bodies and the bodies will come forth from their graves. There is only one resurrection. The saved and the unsaved are resurrected at the same time. Mohammad will be the first human being to be resurrected. All those resurrected will be naked, barefooted, and uncircumcised. Abraham will be the first person to be clothed by Allah. He will be seated facing Allah’s throne. Mohammad will then be clothed and will be seated at the right hand of Allah.
- The Day of Reckoning — There will be an interval after the resurrection before judgment is conducted. This “Day of Reckoning” will be a time of unbearable toil and agony due to both physical and psychological suffering. Great fear will grip the hearts of people. No one will be exempted from this anguish except the prophets and those devout Muslims whom Allah decides to spare. No reason is given for this period of suffering. For pagans, it is a continuation of their suffering in the grave. For believers, it seems to serve some purgatorial purpose. How long this time of suffering will last is unspecified.
- The Day of Judgment — At this point Allah descends from Heaven to judge all humanity and the jinns. The jinns are genies created from smoke. These are supernatural spirits that play a prominent role in Islamic literature. The Qu’ran indicates that the jinns are subject to condemnation because they heard the message about Allah and His Prophet, and they rejected it because they were allured by the pleasures of the world. People will be judged as to their reception of Mohammad’s message and their ethical conduct. Allah will validate the preliminary judgment at the grave by weighing the good and bad deeds of each person. This is called the concept of “the Scale.” The deeds of all people will be weighed in Allah’s scales to determine their eternal destiny.
- Crossing the Bridge — Following judgment, every person must cross a bridge that spans the gulf of Hell. Mohammad will be the first to cross. Those who are condemned will fall from the bridge into Hell. The faithful will be able to cross to the other side. But because Allah is an arbitrary god, even the faithful will cross in fear, hoping He does not change His mind.
- The Gathering at the Pool — Once the faithful cross the bridge safely, they will gather at the Pool of the Prophet. They will be allowed to drink from the pool, and the intense thirst that afflicted them on the Day of Reckoning will finally be satisfied.
- The Intercession — At the pool, Mohammad will begin to intercede with Allah to allow the faithful to enter Paradise. How long this intercession will last is not stated, but Allah will finally give in to it and allow the faithful to enter Paradise. Simultaneously, a second form of intercession will take place. The angels, the prophets, the martyrs, and the faithful will intercede in behalf of those who have been condemned to Hell, asking that if they have “an atom of faith” in their hearts Allah will show mercy toward them by delivering them from Hell. To prove He is merciful, Allah will dip His hand into Hell and bring out a formidable number of people. Dr. Samuel Shahid observes: “In this case, the mercy of God annuls His justice and the laws of God become dysfunctional or inapplicable” (p. 218). Only the polytheists will be eternally consigned to Hell where there will be no end to their suffering.
- Paradise — The Eternal Abode is divided into several parts. Heaven itself is the eternal abiding place of God, with His prophet Mohammad at His right hand. There are seven heavens beneath God’s Heaven. The first, of pure virgin silver, is Adam’s residence. The second, of pure gold, is where Jesus and John the Baptist will reside. The third, made of pearls, is for Joseph; the fourth, of white gold, is for Enoch; and the fifth, of silver, is for Aaron. The sixth and seventh are reserved for Moses and Abraham. The rest of humanity will live in what is referred to as “the Garden.” It is a perfect environment where all desires are granted and fulfilled. People are richly adorned and live in mansions. They are involved in never-ending feasts. Perpetual virgins are awarded to the faithful. Ordinary Muslims receive 40 each. Martyrs who died in jihad receive 72 each. No matter how many times one of these women engage in sex, they become a virgin once again. The sexual desires that were strictly limited on earth are unleashed in Paradise. This prospect serves as an incentive for young men to give themselves as suicide martyrs in the cause of jihad. Much of the Islamic imagery about Paradise is borrowed from Zoroastrianism.
- Hell — Like the Islamic Heaven, the Muslim Hell is made up of seven levels. The first level is the purgatorial area that some Muslims will have to pass through. Christians are confined to the second level. The third level is for Jews. A people called the Sabeans are relegated to the fourth level. The fifth level is for Zoroastrians, the sixth is for idolaters, and the seventh is for hypocrites. Humans will be punished in Hell by demons. The tortures will continue eternally. One Hadith passage says that Mohammad claimed that most of the occupants of Hell would be women.
> Sunni vs Shiite
The prophetic outline produced above is the one that is held by Sunni Muslims. With regard to eschatology, the major difference between the two groups centers around a Messianic individual called the Mahdi. This individual is the embodiment of the earnest longing and hope of the Shiites who have been oppressed and persecuted throughout the course of Islamic history. There is no direct reference to the Mahdi in the Qu’ran. However, Shiites argue that he is inferred. In the Shiite scheme of end time events, the Mahdi takes the place of Jesus as the one who will defeat the Antichrist and create a kingdom that will fill the earth with goodness and justice. He is the one who has been destined from eternity to save the world from the forces of wickedness. In Shiite eschatology, Jesus is limited to assisting the Mahdi. Jesus’ specific mission is to propagate Islam among Christians and Jews.