Something biblical is afoot. It’s a sign of the times. It heralds the imminent arrival of the dajjal. It’s divine punishment for the Saudi war on the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s a curse on the House of Saud for their devastating war in Yemen. It is a warning to the custodians of Islam’s holiest sites to return to authentic, traditional Sunni Islam™ or else be afflicted by the ten plagues of Egypt.

In short, it is whatever you want it to be, when you take the copywriter’s spin at face value. “Swarms of locusts invade Mecca, for the first time in history,” reads the viral message landing in WhatsApp, forwarded by both the learned and wise, and the village idiot. 

Well, it’s half true, I suppose: the swarms of locusts exist. But for the first time ever? For the first time in the history of 2019, perhaps. As for the annals of time, centuries and millenia? If it was truly the first time in history that swarms of locusts had been seen in Mecca, why would the Qur’an — revealed in Mecca — have used this similitude:

So leave them, [O Muhammad]. The Day the Caller calls to something forbidding, Their eyes humbled, they will emerge from the graves as if they were swarming locusts, Racing ahead toward the Caller. The disbelievers will say, “This is a difficult Day.” — Qur’an 54:6-8

Naturally, the scientists, historians and ordinary residents of the region know that swarms of locusts in the lands around the Red Sea is a centuries-old phenomenon. If you are not convinced, just visit the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s locust monitoring website and search for Mecca, Medina or Arabia to identify patterns. A report from 1979, for example, notes: “increasing number of swarms reported from the Jeddah-Mecca area” (page 21 / para 20). A quick search of the site will reveal numerous similar reports published over the 40 years since then.

But why let facts get in the way of a good story? If people with the attention span of crickets wish to believe that that today’s events herald the imminent arrival of the Hour, why get in their way? Why speak of patterns and frequency, when they can be mobilised by half truths and falsehoods to agitate for political change? Aren’t people sick of experts, who challenge populist uprisings with petty facts and longitudinal studies? I think we can safely say they are.

Swarms of locusts are excellent marketting for End Timers, Christian and Muslim alike, who teem social media, latching on to every wacky Daily Mail article as proof that the mainstream media has something to hide. These are the end times, they assert with absolute certainty, pretending not to recall the claims of the last set of  sheikhs and ministers who said the same. Such is the gospel according to YouTube and the final message and testament that is WhatsApp, which supplants the wisdom of the Book, in which the timing of the Hour is unknown to man.

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 God, but most of the people do not know.” — Qur’an 7:187

The coming hour is inevitable. If God should send great floods, or plagues of locusts and lice and frogs, or a desolating famine, or a ravaging war, these would certainly be signs for us, as surat al-Araf makes clear. Perhaps they might motivate us to reform ourselves, repent and turn back to Him, leading the righteous lives we are called to. But why limit ourselves to the narratives fostered by viral media, which select and filter God’s signs according to the priorities of men with agendas of their own clearly defined?

People ask you concerning the Hour. Say, “Knowledge of it is only with God. And what may make you perceive? Perhaps the Hour is near.” — Qur’an 33:63

If we are to take anything from the latest story brought to us by social media, perhaps it is to be reminded of the day we will emerge from our graves, eyes humbled, rising in our millions on an awesome day the like of which is 50,000 years, to be judged for what we each put forth. That is a sign to behold. God is above the partisan timetable of men.

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