Islamic Eschatology and Postmodernity

Islamic eschatology is concerned with the interpretation of prophecies regarding the End Times, including those about social, economic, and political upheaval. In general, postmodernity is a condition characterized by the loss of certainty and epistemic and narrative coherence. It does not take much insight to discover the connection between postmodernity and a growing sense of unease. In contrast, Islamic teachings are anchored in spirituality and offer a way to navigate the apocalyptic dimensions of climate change and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Deep thought about our current situation highlights that we live in interesting times. In order to look beyond hysterics, one must carefully examine Islamic eschatology and how it successfully decodes the meaning behind postmodernity. 

Postmodernity and its symptoms are associated with broader Islamic eschatology. Essentially, the emergence of modernity and now postmodernity destabilized the mizan (balance). The Enlightenment project, which originated in the West and was forcibly exported to the rest of the world, emphasizes capitalism and the possibility of infinite economic growth and human progress. Consequently, this has led to widespread environmental devastation as reflected in the prospect of climate change. Insofar as environmentalism views the onset of modernity as ethically disastrous and has serious reservations with the Enlightenment project, it links well with Islamic eschatological concerns. For instance, the Quran accurately predicts the impact of human civilization on the planet. The Quran states how corruption will spread on a large scale and highlights how this will be the end product of human greed.[1] As a result, Islamic teachings highlight the detrimental nature of the postmodern consensus as well as the myth of progress which underpins liquid modernity. Nonetheless, many Enlightenment ideas regarding human progress are being challenged by the pandemic and the scale of environmental disaster that is too great to be easily halted. Hence, any belief that,

the COVID-19 pandemic will be the solution to global warming is naïve and dangerous.[2] 

Islam not only presents a clear counterview to the current paradigm and the problems spawned by environmental racketeering, but it also sets out strict guidelines. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ highlighted how a sustainable Islamic civilization should effectively curb conspicuous consumption, deforestation, and water waste.[1] To a considerable extent, this understanding involves rethinking the current paradigm and proposing bold solutions to the current impasse. Current environmental problems like acid rain and smog are interpreted as signs of the End Times.[3] For example, “rain will be acidic or burning” (at-Tabarani, al-Hakim). By emphasizing pre-Enlightenment values like the connection between faith and politics, Islam stresses ideas of human guardianship and responsibility. Hence,

there is clear evidence that as humans it is our duty to care for this Earth.[1]

This can be an inspiring call for action. The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science (IFEES) has provided a successful blueprint of what sustainable development looks like and demonstrates how to curtail the worst ecological effects of the capitalist economic system.  

Furthermore, Islamic eschatology is closely linked with moral concerns surrounding postmodernity and technology. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ envisioned incredible leaps in technological progress as well as widespread social change:

people will be so attached to this world, erect huge buildings, and reject Allah’s religion.[4]

Hence, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ predicted the development of skyscrapers in Arabia alongside consumerism and materialism. These developments are associated with postmodern uncertainty, as as our perception of time has altered due to the connected and fast-paced nature of our present reality.[4] Consequently, despite significant material progress, daily life suffers as it loses sacred rhythm, meaning, and higher purpose. 

Postmodernity and Islamic eschatology overlap as both are concerned with the weakening of the Muslim ummah (community). Prophet Muhammad ﷺ warned how some Muslims will blindly follow the example of their religious forbears.[4] He ﷺ said:

The Hour will not come until my Ummah adopts what predecessors of last centuries adopted, span to span and cubit to cubit (i.e., precisely and blindly).[Reported by Al-Bukhari]

Such prophetic guidance seems pertinent due to the legacy of forced anglicization, colonialism, and modernity in the Muslim world. On a deeper level of analysis, this is demonstrated by how the colonized tend to internalize the idea of their own inferiority and ultimately come to emulate their oppressors.[5] Much of this has to do with the internalization of colonial standards and the widespread use of coercion and propaganda. The socio-political legacy of this can be seen in the persistence of Eurocentric ideals within the intellectual, political, and geopolitical realms. Furthermore, the implementation of Eurocentric ideology is dependent on the development of colonial institutions. This can be demonstrated by the pressure on Muslim states in the Global South,

to establish political institutions which conduct themselves in a similar fashion to political institutions in the North, who follow a European modernistic framework of acceptable political institutions.[6]

Overall, the Enlightenment and postmodernity signal the End Times. They provide a discursive shift in understanding and break down traditional political boundaries. This has proved pernicious to the Muslim ummah. The force of global, homogenized modernity has undermined Islamic norms by subverting the connection between faith and politics, as foretold in the prophecies of Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years prior. The eruption of modernity- and subsequent postmodernity- solidified the impact of colonialism, empire, and globalization. On the whole, the rise of Western institutions- and Eurocentric ideology enforced through technology, trade, and military might- displaced traditional Islamic values. While Western civilization has paved the way to capitalist excess and environmental imbalance, these problems can begin to be countered by an embrace of Islamic eschatology and the hope and foreknowledge that Islam provides. 

Works Cited:

  1. Chebli, Sarah. 2019. “Climate Change & Islam: A Call To Act – ISAIAH”. ISAIAH. https://isaiahmn.org/2019/09/28/climate-change-islam-a-call-to-act/.
  2. Gornall, Jonathan. 2020. “It Is A Myth That COVID-19 Will Save The World From Environmental Catastrophe”. Arab News. https://www.arabnews.com/node/1675326/
  3. Haider Ali Qutbshahi Awan, Malik. 2010. “2012 End Of The World – Islamic View, 06/02/10, Malik Haider Ali Mehmud Qutbshahi Awan”. Blogs.Warwick.Ac.Uk. https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/haidermehmud/entry/2012_end_of/.
  4. Ibn Muhammad Al-Qassem, Abdel-Muhsin. 2012. “Signs Of The Hour – Islamway”. En.Islamway.Net. https://en.islamway.net/article/11971/signs-of-the-hour.
  5. Mayblin, Lucy. 2015. “FANON, Frantz”. GLOBAL SOCIAL THEORY. https://globalsocialtheory.org/thinkers/franz-fanon/.
  6. Sagoe, Cecil. 2012. “The Neo-Colonialism Of Development Programs”. E-International Relations. https://www.e-ir.info/2012/08/12/the-neo-colonialism-of-development-programs/

Photo Credit: nothingreallymakesmehappy


About the Author: Nibras Malik is a student of politics and international relations at Cardiff University. Her articles have been published with EcoMENA, a Middle Eastern environmental think-tank. Her interests include the intersection of Islam, politics and philosophy. 

3 thoughts on “Islamic Eschatology and Postmodernity

  1. Nibras, this was a brilliant piece, “the myth of progress” and the “destabilized Mizan/balance” were significant points. Eschatology can gather our attention to the consequences of our collective free will. I’ve always found it helpful for contextualizing my reflections/accountability, so it was great to see you discuss it on a societal scale.

    I wonder if there are concrete examples within Islamic history that depict how societies previously addressed the imbalances they faced because of the societal/cultural changes of their time (they’d probably be on a smaller scale though, the excessiveness of these times are new). Drawing from history could help one understand what the “call to action” of today may look like in a sharper sense.

    You’re a gifted writer. I look forward to reading more!

    Like

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