Traditionalists and new believers everywhere love eschatology: it is the promise of the end times which keeps their faith alive. Whatever the Qur’an says about knowledge of the Hour being with Allah alone, the allegedly clear signs described in a multitude of others sources apparently being fulfilled before our very eyes are just too beguiling to ignore. So in circles of knowledge it is the chatter of students, as their teachers become animated with such tales. These are certainly the end times, they preach, oblivious to the same preaching of their predecessors in every generation for the past thousand years. Certainly the Hour will come — about that there is no doubt — but its timing is with God alone:
They ask you, [O Muhammad], about the Hour: when is its arrival? Say, “Its knowledge is only with my Lord. None will reveal its time except Him. It lays heavily upon the heavens and the earth. It will not come upon you except unexpectedly.” They ask you as if you are familiar with it. Say, “Its knowledge is only with Allah, but most of the people do not know.” — Qur’an 7:187
Alas, the retort of the Book dissatisfies the masses who have invested time and energy absorbing the tales of their predecessors, for as everyone knows, the prophecies are unfolding before our very eyes. Nobody ever stops to ask whether they are self-fulfilling prophecies, brought to life by the very people who have spent a lifetime studying the exact same narrations themselves. The appearance of black flags in every generation: incredible! Just as foretold, and of course read. Righteous believers settling in a sacred oasis called Ghouta to battle for survival: just as prophesied, and of course preached.
Indeed, Allah [alone] has knowledge of the Hour and sends down the rain and knows what is in the wombs. And no soul perceives what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul perceives in what land it will die. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. — Qur’an 31:34
Ah, but what of that awful battle to end all battles in the land of Sham? Surely we see how it unfolds before our eyes, just as promised as clear as day. Perhaps so if we forget to consult our history books, where we discover that the same conflict has raged for a thousand years, from the Byzantine conquest in 996 to the Seljuk conquest in 1084, to Saladin’s conquest in 1175, and on and on until the Ottoman conquest in 1516, the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, and the Arab-British alliance taking Damascus and Aleppo in 1918, and on and on throughout the twentieth century, as rule passed from hand to hand. Rest assured that in another two decades, the next generation will be remobilised with the same sacred narrations deployed since Ummayid times, enabling the pious, righteous and easily-manipulated to take up their role as lead in these never-ending rehearsals for a battle to end all battles.
Say, “I hold not for myself [the power of] benefit or harm, except what Allah has willed. And if I knew the unseen, I could have acquired much wealth, and no harm would have touched me. I am not except a warner and a bringer of good tidings to a people who believe.” — Qur’an 7:188
Friends of mine love to remind me constantly of the final awful battles we can apparently expect to occur in our lifetime. These narrations seem to excite them, strengthening their faith in the path of righteousness they walk upon. But for me they are simply depressing, stirring a sense deep despair and futility. How can one look forward to an unholy war in which millions will die, for the sake of a momentary peace — the fabled 7 years when the promised Mahdi will rule with justice — the like of a speck of dust against the continuum of human history? How can one look forward to the promised coming of that saviour, knowing that the same sources teach of the arrival of a great Liar, the Masih ad-Dajaal, who will lead the majority of believers astray, of whose repentance will never be accepted? Experiencing joy in anticipation of such events makes no sense at all; it is as illogical as it is insane.
The word Dajaal means to lie, mix, confuse and to conceal the truth with falsehood. It is synonymous with Sihr, meaning to make what is false appear to be true, or to cause something to be imagined differently than its reality: to deceive, beguile, delude, or to embellish by falsification or deceit.
If the campaigns of our activist and preachers are anything to go by, we are masters of this art. Our propaganda frequently mixes truth and falsehood. Our defence of our own consistently relies on a falsification of facts. And it is clear to see how millions can be led astray: witness how we trust without doubt in those who define our narrative. Witness how we accept what others tell us without pausing for thought, to probe and investigate for ourselves. How often have we been enraged by a photograph, passed off as one thing when it was taken from another context altogether? How many times have we been beguiled by elegant speech, or vocal campaigning for a populist cause?
Dajaal is definitely something real, but not as allegedly prophesied in narrations which completely contradict the Qur’an. It is what we experience daily, in the perpetual indoctrination of a people concerned only with the politics of identity: the mass mobilisations in defence of unholy causes. The covering for imams who embezzle funds freely donated. The advocacy for people subsumed in sin. The exoneration of the ego. Continuously we do exactly what the Children of Israel were warned not to:
O Children of Israel, remember My favour which I have bestowed upon you and fulfil My covenant that I will fulfil your covenant, and be afraid of Me. And believe in what I have sent down confirming that which is with you, and be not the first to disbelieve in it. And do not exchange My signs for a small price, and fear only Me. And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know. — Qur’an 2:40-42
To be truthful is no easy task. Stand before the braying crowd, which demands a response that works in their favour, and see if you have the courage to speak the truth. Look inside when you must swim against the tide: how does your soul respond? Try to find your voice when confronted by the powerful with vested interests, or a community which stands against you, or friends that desert you. When your life or livelihood or freedom depend on you saying what is expected of you, then will you know what it means to be truthful.
“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember God often and the women who do so — for them God has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” — Qur’an 33:35
To be truthful is an act, a decision, a commitment, part of faith. In these times it would be better for us if we tried to vanquish the dajaal within: to slay the inclination towards deceit, to learn to verify the information we receive and transmit, to investigate and corroborate, to read with open eyes and listen with discerning ears, to study the signs on the horizons and within ourselves, in order to foster a truer faith, more trusting in the promise of God.
[Say], “Then is it other than Allah I should seek as judge while it is He who has revealed to you the Book explained in detail?” And those to whom We gave the Scripture know that it is sent down from your Lord in truth, so never be among the doubters. — Qur’an 6:114