THE END OF TIME
Islam, iman, and ihsan work together to coordinate all aspects of our life and being so that we may know how to worship and love in a manner that befits our true nature. By teaching us to live according to the same fundamental principles in all dimensions of life, they coordinate the chaos of worldly existence by returning it to its divine center of transmuting the diffuse cacophony of a misguided and undisciplined life into the harmony of a life lived by the eternal rhythm of truth. Nonetheless, the world, like our bodies, is condemned to a gradual process of decay. Just as the march of time weakens our bodies, it brings about moral decay, thus making it increasingly difficult to tell wrong from right. Just as the human body deteriorates while one is still living and even endures states that appear unnatural when compared to its healthy condition, so too the Qur’an and Hadith speak of many unnatural events that will afflict the world as it reaches its end. These are known as the “Signs of the Hour”. Their mark is a chaos that will make it more difficult than ever to maintain the proper balance between iman, islam, and ihsan on both the societal and individual levels. This is referred to in the Hadith of Gabriel عليه السلام when the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم says, “The slave will give birth to her mistress, and you will see the barefoot, naked, destitute shepherds vying in erecting tall buildings.” The former alludes to the dissolution of the family, the latter to the corruption of society, when the basest of people rule and care for nothing but position, reputation, and monetary gain.
The exact timing of the occurrence of the End of Time is unknown to us. God says clearly in the Qur’an,
Surely with God is the knowledge of the End of Time. (31 : 34)
The signs of the End of Time are many. They are generally divided into greater and lesser signs. The two mentioned by the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم are among the lesser signs. The lesser signs also include rampant murder, widespread religious ignorance, a drastic increase in fornication, the proliferation of alcohol use, a sharp decrease in the number of viable men, a corresponding increase in the number of eligible unmarried women, a loss of trust between people, a tremendous increase in wealth; in addition, the Arabian Peninsula will become green and lush, and the prophecy that the caliphate will be held by twelve Qureyshi Imams will be fulfilled.
In regards to the two signs actually mentioned by the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, which were noted at the beginning of this section, they both involve the emergence of a leadership class of base people. These base people who enter into positions of power and authority -positions they are unfit to hold- are referred to as the Ruwaybidah. Concerning them, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم mentioned, “Before the End of Time there will be treacherous years. The integrity of the trustworthy person will be impugned, and the blameworthy person will be trusted. During that time the Ruwaybidah will speak.” They said, “Who are the Ruwaybidah?” He replied, “Fools speaking in public affairs.”
Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali has given a chilling warning as to the negative consequences of their ascension. He says,
When the barefoot, naked shepherds -and they are crude, ignorant people- become the leaders and wealthy, to such an extent that they begin vying with each other in the construction of tall buildings, [their ascension] will bring about the corruption of the religious and worldly order [of the Muslims].
The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم comments upon both dimensions of social decay in another hadith, warning that towards the End of Time,
…a man obeys his wife while he is disrespectful to his mother, and is devoted to his friend while shunning his father. Voices are raised in the mosques and the leader of the people is the vilest among them. Some people will be treated respectfully solely for fear of their evil … and the later generations will curse the first generations.
Whereas Western civilization tends to view the march of time as one of progress, Islam, like most other religions, sees it as a process of decay and corruption, for “no time comes but that what follows it is worse.” As the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم is said to be the last Messenger before the End of Time, his Hadith are filled with warnings of the trials (fitan) that shall come to pass as the world moves from order to chaos. The root of all these trials is the loss of knowledge and religion. We have referred to this in the discussion of other religions, where the teachings of the religions themselves are not criticized, but the human tendency to forget them and to fail to live in accord with them is. Regarding this continual loss of religious knowledge, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Among the conditions of the Hour is that knowledge is lifted and ignorance affirmed,” and “Truly at the time of the Hour are days in which ignorance descends and knowledge is lifted.” Regarding the gradual devolution of humankind that results from this, he said, “The best among my nation are the generation among whom I was raised, then the one after that, then the one after that…” and “The upright will depart one after another until nothing remains but impoverished people, the like of leftover barley and dates.”
Not conscious of their true nature, people of latter times will have no center other than their own egos and will live only to sustain them. As one of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions warned, “The first knowledge to be removed from the people is humility. Soon you will enter a full mosque and not see a humble man within it.” At this time religion will no longer be followed, rather “…rapacity reigns, passions are obeyed, the world is given priority and each man admires his own opinions.” As mentioned previously, knowledge is removed from humanity by the removal of those who have knowledge, and as a result people will take ignoramuses as their leaders. Such people will be followed because “…the minds of most will be taken away. There will remain only those who resemble dust, most of whom will know nothing but think they know all.” There will thus be great confusion regarding the practice of religion, something which can be seen throughout the Islamic world today, where some of the simplest practices have been forgotten, and others altered by those who think they know better. Nonetheless, there is a compensating mercy, for one cannot be held fully responsible for that about which they know nothing. As the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said to his companions, “You live at a time when whoever omits one tenth of what he has been ordered [to do] is ruined. But there will come a time when whoever fulfills one tenth of what he has been ordered [to do] is saved.”
In these times, adhering to the teachings of Islam is said to be as difficult as holding onto a hot coal. To prepare Muslims for such days, many of the illnesses that now afflict Muslims and people the world over were spoken of by the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم. For example the world economic system now prevents anyone from having money that has not in some way been touched by the usury of modern banking, a practice prohibited in Islamic law. Regarding this, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “There shall come upon the people a time when they will take usury. Those who do not take it will be affected by the dust of it.” It is said that corruption in economic affairs will be such that people do not care what source their money comes from. Foremost among the signs of these latter times is that Muslims will be many, but extremely weak. One day the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم told his companions, “The nations will soon invite others to partake of you, just as they invite one to eat from their bowl.” A man asked, “And how few will we be that day?” The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم responded, “Rather that day you will many, but you will be foam, like the foam of a wave, and God will remove the awe of you from the breasts of your enemies an will cast weakness into your hearts.” A person asked, “O Messenger of God, what is [that] weakness?” He replied, “The love of the world and aversion to death.” When one sees that the political affairs of Muslims the world over are now determined by outside forces, it is apparent that in many ways this has come to pass.
Just as the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم taught his community how to live during the times when the spheres of islam, iman, and ihsan were closely bound together, so too did he teach them how best to react in an age when the principles of religion have been all but forgotten. When speaking of such times, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم would often cry, for he knew that his followers would face many tribulations. As he said, “After me you will see issues and affairs that you will hate.” When asked how to respond to such times, he responded, “Give them their right and ask God for your right.” This means that one must recognize such times for what they are and continue to act in accord with God’s decrees, rather than being caught up in one trend and then another, shifting from ideology to ideology. In such times confusion will reign. To become involved may thus serve to aggravate the problems more than alleviate them. In another account the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم tells his companions, “Be patient until you meet me at the pool,” meaning the pool of paradise. Patience and nonviolence are what is recommended for confronting such calamities. As the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم has said, “Who comes upon a man from my people in order to slay him, let him slay. For the slayer is in the fire and the slain is in paradise.”
In an account that sums up the nature of such times and the proper reaction to it, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم says:
At the time when the Hour comes there are trials like the pitch dark of night. During such trials a man rises as a believer and retires as an unbeliever, and rises as an unbeliever and retires as a believer. The one sitting at such times is better than the one standing, and the one walking is better than the one running. So break your hardness, cut off your desires, and break your swords upon a rock. And if anyone enters upon you, then be like the better son of Adam.
Thus, one should be like Abel, who said to his brother Cain,
Even if you extend your hand to kill me, I will not extend my hand to kill you.
Truly I fear God the Lord of the worlds. (5 : 28)
While such an attitude would seem to contradict the many Qur’anic verses that call for Muslims to fight in the way of God, one must remember that in times when there are no true leaders, fighting only leads to greater strife. Even the first Muslims, who had a true leader, yet were weak in relation to those who opposed them, did not engage the enemy. Throughout the first twelve years of the Prophet Muhammad’s twenty-three year mission they suffered great persecution, but triumphed through patience and piety, not by retaliation and vengeance. Such a way of practicing Islam might seem foreign to many Muslims today. But as the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم has said, “Islam came as a strange affair and will return as a strange affair. So blessed are the strangers who rectify that of my custom which the people have corrupted after me.”
As the Prophet Muhammad’s Sunnah and the Qur’an have been preserved to this day, the possibility of rectifying them and living in accord with them always remains. Indeed, for many Muslims it is precisely the fact that Islam has been preserved that makes it possible to know how to submit to God with faith and beauty while living in a world gone mad. As God has promised,
We have made the Remembrance (i.e., the Qur’an) descend and
We are preserving it. (15 : 9)
And as the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said in his farewell pilgrimage: “I have left among you that which if you hold fast to it, you will never be misguided, a clear matter, the Book of God, and the custom of His Prophet. O people, hear my words and understand.”
 al-Bukhari, p. 1331, no. 7498
 Quoted in Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Jami’ al-‘ulum wa al-hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1994 CE / 1414 AH), 1 : 139
 al-Tirmidhi, p. 507, no. 2210
 al-Bukhari, p. 1258, no. 7068
 Ibid., p. 34, no. 80
 Ibid., p. 1257, no. 7062
 Ibid., p. 640, no. 3651
 Ibid., p. 1150, no. 6434
 al-Tirmidhi, p. 602, no. 2653
 Ibid., p. 688, no. 3058
 Ibn Majah, Kitab al-fitan, v. 10, Cf., p. 67
 al-Tirmidhi, p. 521, no. 2267
 Ibn Majah, p. 326, no. 2278
 Imam Abu Dawud Sulayman b. al-Asha’th al-Sijistani, Sunan Abu Dawud (Riyadh: Dar al-Salam, 1999 CE / 1420 AH), pps. 603 – 604, no. 4297
 al-Bukhari, p. 1256, no. 7052
 al-Bukhari p. 1256, introduction to section no. 2
 Abu Dawud, p. 597, no. 4260
 Ibid., p. 598, no. 4259
 al-Tirmidhi, p. 597, no. 2630
 Ibn Ishaq, Sirah Rasul Allah (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1979 CE / 1409 AH), 4 : 239