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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Muslim Eschatology

I've been taking a little time to study Islam. One thing I've found fascinating to ponder is Muslim Eschatology (study of the end-things), and compare it to Christian Eschatology.

Let me first say that I have traditionally found Christian Eschatology something interesting, but not something I've spent huge amounts of time on. I know the broad outlines and some general thoughts and theories (pre-millenial, post-millenial, dispensationalism, and so forth) but remain a firm agnostic with much of this. I made the mistake at a conference of stating to the person next to me at the dinner table that I wasn't convinced a worldwide "rapture" of believers would occur, where believers would suddenly disappear right before the Antichrist is revealed. Talk about a fools-rush-in moment. My dining partner happened to be a member of Tim LaHaye's Pre-Tribulation Research Center, so I had to spend the next hour and a half defending my position (and listening politely) to something I wasn't terribly interested in pursuing. Oh well.

My sense with Christian Eschatology is that it is of course a worthy subject to study -- the book of Revelation even promises a special blessing for this -- but just as many of the prophecies of Jesus' first coming to Earth were misinterpreted before he came, and only understood after his Earthly life (Isaiah 53 is a good example), so the fine points of these end-time prophecies are likely to be misinterpreted.

During the "Left Behind" craze of 10-15 years ago, it seemed to me that some Christians were so caught up (excuse the pun) with the idea that they wouldn't be around for the bad stuff, that they had a fatalistic outlook on negative political and social trends that appeared. In my opinion, we as Christians must always resist evil. But I digress.

We were talking about Muslim Eschatology. My understanding of this stuff is very basic, but let me give you what I can. First, you probably know that Muslims divide themselves into Shi'a and Sunni, depending on who they believe took up the leadership line following Mohammed. Philosophically the Sunni (the majority of Muslims) tend to be more centered on pragmatic values, whereas Shi'a are more abstract and philosophical. This is not to say that Sunni are not spiritual as well, just that the outlooks seem a bit different. (I am open to correction if I have this wrong -- this is my impression from my studies). For example, Saddam Hussein with his ostentatious wealth and pragmatic ruling style was Sunni, whereas Ahmadinejad trying to usher in the Mahdi's return is Shi'a.

Nevertheless, I believe that Muslims whether Sunni or Shi'a understand the end-times as written in the Quran and especially the hadith (part of the Sunna, that records the sayings of Mohammed) in more or less the same light, just as Christians whether they believe in end-times or not can understand the events as delineated in the Bible. There are certainly points and so forth to disagree with, but I'll be talking about the broadest outlines where there doesn't seem to be disagreement in interpretation. Again I am not a scholar, and am getting information from commentary books by Muslims and Christians.

Like Christians, Muslims believe in a definite end to the world followed by Judgment Day. In the Quran there are three personages that will appear during a specific 7 (or some commentators say 10) years of the end times. The first is the Mahdi, the 12th caliph of Islam that will rule the whole world. The second is Isa Al-Maseeh, whom Muslims believe is the returned Jesus, who will clarify to all the unbelievers that he taught Islam, and he will assist but be subservient to Mahdi. These two figures will allow Islam to rule throughout the world, and will fight anyone who stands in their way. The third figure is the Ad-Dajjal, the one-eyed enemy figure who will defend Jews and gather a resistance against the Mahdi.

In Christian Eschatology, Christians believe there will be a final 7 year period before the end in which the Antichrist will rule absolutely, religiously and politically. He will be assisted by the False Prophet, and they will both speak blasphemous things and show many false miracles and signs. Antichrist will enter the Jewish Temple at the end of 3 1/2 years and declare that he is God.

This stuff is hard to wade through. The narrative goes that Muhammed repeatedly visited a cave and was seized by a spirit that taught him the religion of Islam. It is said that he was afraid at first, but submitted to the angel and learned, then passed on, these teachings. He lived among Jews, Christians, and especially the polytheistic religions of Arabia, and the Quran and other writings contain many references to the Bible. In fact, I believe the Bible is also considered one of the Holy books of Islam, although it is considered to be corrupted.

With the broadest understandings of these religious outlines, these end-time prophecies seem to be like photographic negatives of each other for predicted future events.


Philangelus said...

Catholic and Orthodox eschatology doesn't define the period of time. There are only four elements of Catholic endtime thought:
- an antichrist will rise during a general upheaval
- there will be a general resurrection of the dead
- Christ will return as our final judge and King
- And then this Earth will be destroyed/consummated and we'll have a new Heaven and a new Earth.

Catholicism and the Orthodox church rejects the Rapture. There's a thorough discussion of it here:
and part two:

Kat Heckenbach said...

Very interesting post, Amy. My husband, sis-in-law, and I have discussed the end times a lot because the descriptions in the Bible are so abstract. I'm kind of with you--I'm not ready to jump on the Left Behind bandwagon.

I'd never really given thought to what end times look like through other religions, though.

Mid Stutsman said...

I believe it's a dangerous thing to lightly brush over the eschatology on either side. To understand Christianity, one needs to be a Christian and have a solid and thorough understanding of the subject. There are way too many passages one can miss that, when put together, clearly explains the subject.
Without a proper understanding of the history of Islam, and especially of Mohammed, you won't see the absurdity of the Koran and of his teachings, which don't make any sense. They are a compilation of his discourses with Catholics and Jews in the marketplace and the things he overheard. Some just make you shake your head until you find out he was a very messed up man. Most Muslims can't even tell you what the Koran says...they don't read it...they go to the mosque and hear Imam's interpretations. (Sadly, it's the same with churches today)
We are admonished as Christians to search things out and to be led by the Holy Spirit, which Christ sent to infill us after His crucifixion and resurrection.
The Left Behind series was written by men...a fiction of their surmises. The Bible is God-breathed and the source of Truth...but you have to search it out in faith.