The title of this post was an advertisement I saw in a magazine whilst waiting in my local Spanish peluqueria the other day. The ad, 2012 is Coming, Enjoy every Second, was for a wrist-watch! Quite clever you might think. The image was of a giant meteor hurtling towards a city of office towers all lit up at night. Also depicted was a young couple in a suggestive clinch. Trading on the apocalypse is an interesting new departure for the advertising industry, but symptomatic of this time. There’s been a lot of it around. Like, for instance, Hollywood movies like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and even my locals dropping hints about the Mahdi coming, peace on earth and the likelihood that 2012 might not actually happen! Advertisers have always picked up on the zeitgeist but this is new and a sign of how deep the fear has percolated.
But this is not new. There have been soothsayers and Casandras down the ages who have predicted the end of the world anytime soon! It’s seems to be a response built into our human DNA i.e., to have fear of an ultimate cataclysm after all, we, as a species, are distinct from animals in that we have knowledge of our own death. In the 1960s you could espy everyday a man walking up and down Oxford Street in London carrying a giant placard reading “The End of the World is Nigh, Eat more Protein!”. Since then, various spiritual teachers of many different persuasions have warned their flocks that the expected end was due, naming a date and even a time and to depart for the high plateau with their families and possessions. The recent millenium was one of them. I won’t enumerate these spiritual groups or cults as there are so many but I am more interested in why there is a general upsurge at this particular time. Fed by the predictions of Nostradamus or the Mayan myth (or the misunderstanding of this myth – see cartoon below) and the various and many descriptions in the Prophetic traditions there has been a lot of talk. A lot of smoke but not much light.
Well known is a story of one of the sahaba – a companion of the Prophet. He asked the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, “when is the hour?“. The Prophet’s response was not to predict a day or a year but to say “What have you prepared for it?”. His advice was not to passively wait around for it, or even not to fear it, but to ask him a question about his active response to it. If only this almost palpable public fear that is around could meet with this kind of counsel, as right now it seems to be being brushed under the carpet.
If one was to examine the pronouncements of a guru, shaykh, whoever might be predicting the end, you would have to suppose that it was for a reason, a wish maybe to subdue their followers or maybe a well intentioned warning but without the Prophetic counsel illustrated above, disingenuous in my opinion. Fear after all is a great way to control people. So what happens when the fateful hour never arrives? Like the great millenium non-event. Red faces all round but did the followers turn round and say “we were cheated” or were they even a teeny bit embarrassed? No doubt some were disappointed. I’m interested to know their response as I have never heard it.
When Mount Vesuvius exploded and suffocated the city of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy under volcanic ash in the year 79 AD, it was evidently the end for 4000 of its inhabitants. Equally for Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, and Hamburg when fire destroyed hundreds of thousands in a matter of minutes. It occurred to me that there has been an increase in natural disasters and loss of life, like the the two great tsunamis, in the last decade, but compared to the last century not much in comparison to the multi-millions of deaths in its two great machine wars. If you consider that your own death is your own personal end of the world then, yes, the end of your world is nigh. Like possibly in the next ten minutes. Maybe the end of the world is really billions of little Ends of the Worlds. But one can only speculate. Biblical and Quranic descriptions of an ultimate apocalyptical cataclysm are mysterious but quite detailed – if there is a beginning to creation then there is most certainly an end to it. Why not? What has a beginning has an end. Doomsters often neglect to point out that the signs of the end of time have been around for a very long time – thousands of years in fact.
I’m sure when the people of Medina, in the year 1256 CE, heard of a great molten volcanic stream heading towards them, they considered it was the end of their world and a punishment from the Almighty. It is said that the night was so bright from the lava that you could read a book. Only their supplications and rapid repentance and of course the presence of its greatest resident turned the great stream of molten lava away from the city, actually uphill. The evidence is still there to this day some 12 km south east of the city. The lava tract is 70km long and 20km wide and is illustrated above (photo by Nabil Turner). Like Pompeii, these signs are there to remind us of how the end can come swiftly to some people but also how the ‘end’ can possibly be averted or at least postponed if people change their ways.
The end of time is very visible in Quranic and Hadith sources and I am no expert but I know out of choice many scholars of eschatology hesitate to discuss the subject, much as they wisely hesitate to go into stories, truths, rumours and myths about the Mahdi. Modern muslims who I have met remain confused about these subjects but all will have an opinion one way or another. The prophetic guidance is to assume that tomorrow is maybe your last but that if you were planting a tree, to continue planting it. Better, it seems, to be pre-occupied with positive action than to be mesmerised by speculative fear.